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Over The Boards

Mailbag: Oilers biggest surprise of season, Pageau's future with Senators

NHL.com's Dan Rosen answers weekly questions

by Dan Rosen @drosennhl / NHL.com Senior Writer

Here is the Nov. 13 edition of Dan Rosen's weekly mailbag, which runs every Wednesday. If you have a question, tweet it to @drosennhl and use #OvertheBoards.

 

What team and player has surprised you the most, good and bad? -- @jasonz135

Let's start with the good on the team side, which is the Edmonton Oilers, who are 12-6-2 through 20 games and in first place in the Pacific Division. That's roughly a quarter of the season in the books, and they're on pace for 49 wins. Maybe they're not built to sustain that pace, but they're not going to need 49 wins to get into the Stanley Cup Playoffs, especially since nobody is running away with the Pacific. I wonder if the Oilers this season are becoming the equivalent of the New York Islanders from last season. Their defensive play and structure have improved markedly in their first season under coach Dave Tippett, just like the Islanders did a complete turnaround in those areas last season in their first season under coach Barry Trotz. The Oilers were allowing 2.47 goals per game entering Tuesday, among the best in the League; they allowed 3.30 goals per game last season, among the worst. The Islanders went from the worst defensive team in 2017-18 (3.57 goals-against per game) to the best last season (2.33).

I'm going with the Vegas Golden Knights as the team that has surprised me on the negative side. I have high expectations for them. They're 9-7-3 through 19 games. They have been mystifyingly inconsistent. They just finished a four-game road trip when they won one game (1-2-1) and scored seven goals. The problem is they're minus-10 in 5-on-5 goal differential (31-41). They haven't won more than two games in a row, which they've done three times. They hadn't gone winless in more than two in a row until they lost 3-2 against the Detroit Red Wings on Saturday, dropping to 0-2-1 in their past three. They're better than this.

As for players, on the good side, it's New York Rangers center Ryan Strome, who has been given first-line duties because Mika Zibanejad has been out with an upper-body injury. Zibanejad has missed seven straight games, but the Rangers are 5-1-1 in those games with Strome producing eight points in them (three goals, five assists). He has 16 points (five goals, 11 assists) in 16 games.

It's been a surprising struggle for Red Wings forward Andreas Athanasiou, who has nine points (three goals, six assists) and is minus-22 through 18 games after he had 30 goals and 54 points last season. He has scored a goal in each of the past two games, so perhaps he's starting to come around.

Video: Rupp provides updated Pacific Division power rankings

 

What do you think happens in Ottawa with Jean-Gabriel Pageau? -- @driftshade1

This situation screams RE-SIGN for a plethora of reasons, the most notable being that Pageau is an important player for the rebuilding Ottawa Senators. I understand he can become an unrestricted free agent July 1 who might be able to get the Senators a high draft pick and/or a top prospect if they move him before the 2019 NHL Trade Deadline on Feb. 24. He also likely will cost them more than $4 million per season on his next contract if he continues to play well, which he has lately, scoring five goals in the past five games; his current contract has an average annual value of $3.1 million. It makes sense to look at trading him from the perspective of wanting to stockpile assets to fuel the rebuild. But let's look at it another way, from the perspective of a rebuilding team having a veteran player like Pageau, an Ottawa native who turned 27 years old Monday, leading the way for all the young players who are in the lineup and are expected to join the lineup in the coming seasons. A rebuild requires layers, meaning teams can't just use a roster of players all between the ages of 18 and 21 and think it'll work and be good for their development. They need insulation. They need guidance and leadership. They need to be shown the way, to be put in favorable situations to help build their confidence so eventually they can take on bigger roles. Sometimes they need more time in the American Hockey League. Having players like Pageau is important because they serve as the buffer for the young players. That's why the Senators should re-sign Pageau if he wants to stay. They can sell him on being a big part of the rebuild and the future since he's only 27. They could make him the captain. He fits the role.

 

Are the Philadelphia Flyers for real? -- @ogconnor18

What's for real is the professionalism around the Flyers. That's what coach Alain Vigneault has brought. He's the CEO and he delegates, but everything goes through him. That will not change. What's for real is the goaltending. Flyers fans will want to put a big exclamation point on the end of that sentence. Carter Hart is legit, but you're going to have to live through some ups and downs this season. He is 4-0-0 with a .929 save percentage and 1.92 goals-against average in four games in November after going 2-3-1 with an .864 save percentage and 3.32 GAA in seven games in October. That's to be expected from a 21-year-old goalie, but the Flyers can feel a level of certainty that they finally have their No. 1 goalie.

But I'm not yet sure if they're for real. They're 5-0-1 in six games this month, but they have scored more than three goals just once (not including shootouts), in a 4-1 win against the Carolina Hurricanes on Nov. 5. They haven't scored more than two goals in their past two games, each a 3-2 shootout win. But they're finding ways to get points against quality teams, which matters. They're banking points and it should help them later, but they're going to need more offense if they want sustained success because their defense and goaltending still is young and will be prone to hiccups.

Video: PHI@BOS: Hart stops Pastrnak's bid on penalty shot

 

What's your opinion of teams that win a lot of one-goal games? Is it sustainable? -- @TrishTheMiddle

My inclination is to say I believe in teams that win one-goal games because it shows resiliency and a grit for finding ways to get it done. However, it is hard to give a universal answer because it varies by team and it depends on how they're winning those one-goal games. Are the wins coming in overtime or a shootout after they're routinely getting outshot and outchanced? That's not sustainable. Are they winning the possession battle, getting the better of the chances and doing enough to build a lead and hold onto it? That's sustainable. There are so many ways, which makes it hard to answer, but generally a team that wins a lot of one-goal games is a team that knows how to find ways to win even when it doesn't have its best game. Often I find teams that win a lot of one-goal games tend to have long-term success.

Ten teams won at least 19 games by one goal last season; six made the playoffs. The St. Louis Blues had 12 one-goal wins in their final 36 regular-season games and then had 10 more in the playoffs, including two in the Stanley Cup Final, en route to winning the Stanley Cup. Two seasons ago, nine of the 11 teams that won at least 20 games by one goal made the playoffs. The Golden Knights, who had 22 one-goal wins in the regular season, won seven of 12 games by one goal to get to the Cup Final. The Capitals, who had 20 one-goal wins in the regular season, won six by one goal in the playoffs, including two in the Cup Final, to help them win the Stanley Cup.

The point I'm trying to make here is typically the teams that find ways to win one-goal games build character and create a resiliency factor that makes a difference when it matters most. This season, entering play Tuesday, the Blues had eight one-goal wins, and the Capitals and Oilers each had six. They're each in first place in their respective divisions.

 

Are you surprised at how well the St. Louis Blues have played since Vladimir Tarasenko (and Alexander Steen) went down and is it sustainable? -- @DSBerk

No and yes.

The Blues are built to withstand an injury to a top goal scorer like Tarasenko because they're not built to be a top-heavy team. They can overcome what they lose in Tarasenko because they generally don't give up much and they play such a solid team game that they don't typically require a player to make the one play that changes a game. What they don't have is the player they can send on the ice to score a goal in a situation when they absolutely need a goal. That's Tarasenko. But the Blues also rarely are in that situation so they can overcome Tarasenko's loss for now. That said, they'll need him in the playoffs to repeat because there will be situations in a short series when they need the game-changing goal scorer to make a big impact. Tarasenko can go quiet for two or three games, but he also could be the difference in the Blues winning a series by picking it up and dominating a game or two in a row. He did it last season. Losing Steen hurts, but he's not a top forward for them any longer. Where they miss him most is on the penalty kill. If the injuries pile up they'll have a problem.

 

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